OK, OK, there are no lakes in Scotland! They are called lochs and Loch Lomond is the largest of them all by water surface — 24.5 miles long — even though Loch Ness is deeper and holds more water volume. Loch Lomond is also one of the most popular Scottish lochs in that it is located just a tad over a half hour from Glasgow in the Loch Lomond / The Trossachs National Park.
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We visited Loch Lomond on two different Rabbie’s Tours during our recent visit to Scotland. The first tour started in the morning with a visit to Stirling Castle and ended with some whisky tasting at Glengoyne Distillery. In the middle of the day we visited the village of Balmaha on the eastern shore. Balmaha is a popular spot for walkers on the West Highland Way. And on our way to a three day visit to the Isle of Skye we stopped for a spell at Tarbet near the Rowardennan Ferry on the loch’s western shore. Then we zipped up Highway A82 to the western highlands and Skye.
Loch Lomond is famous for its 30 islands. A colony of wallabies live on one of them. Conic Hill near Balmaha separates the highlands from the lowlands. Rowardennan is famous as the starting off point for a trek up Ben Lomond, the southernmost of Scotland’s munros. It stands 974 metres high (3192 feet). Thousands of walkers climb to the summit every year. There’s a waterbus service to places like Luss and Tarbet on the western shore and Rowardennan on the eastern shore.
Now for the song. There are many versions of this song whose full name is The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond and just about as many interpretations for its meaning. I’ll go with the version told to us by Ally, our Rabbie’s Tour Guide: Two brothers were captured by the English during one of the many Jacobite Rebellions and they were sent to England as prisoners. Then the English decided to hang one of the brothers and let the other go free. The twist is that they would have to decide among themselves who would hang and who wouldn’t. The younger brother decided that his older brother who was married and had children of his own should go back to his family. So the younger brother would hang and never see his sweetheart again by the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond! The older brother would take the above ground home while the younger brother would take the spiritual road of the dead and so would beat his brother home.
The Corries were a popular Scot folk-song duo in the 1970s and 80s. See here for their version of the song which sticks close to the 1841 published version about the Battle of Culloden and Bonnie Prince Charlie (I found it interesting that Roy Williamson pronounces his name “Chair-lee”).
Most American versions of the song are not sad. See here for Benny Goodman’s swing version of the 30s. That’s Martha Tilton doing the vocals.
The rock group Runrig and their lead singer Donnie Munro were very popular in the 1980s and 90s and they usually closed their concerts with Loch Lomond. See here for a very loud version of the song with thousands of people waving their arms and singing the chorus.
See here for a version by The Nyzonza Singers who were featured in the 2007 film The Last King of Scotland.
You can hear a beautiful version by The King’s Singers here.
We visited the Kelvingrove Museum on our last day in Glasgow and attended an organ concert there. Click here to see and hear Nicola Benedetti, a classical violinist from North Ayrshire, play Loch Lomond on her violin in the same place a couple of years ago. Nicola was in town for the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games which you can see and hear here.
Finally, here is a bagpipe version of the song — by the Pipes and Drums of Leanisch.
Well, congratulations if you got through all of that. I think there’s a total of 37 YouTube listening minutes in all of the above!
Does anyone agree with me that it’s Scotland’s saddest song?
We spent a week in Edinburgh during our vacation in Scotland and then twelve days either in Glasgow or on bus trips from Glasgow. Edinburgh has its castle and its palace and its Royal Mile and its monuments and its New Town and its national museum and its Parliament. Glasgow has Loch Lomond.